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Night Witches and Gangs and Rebels, Oh My

By: Jasmine Zepeda

Taking history classes in high school versus college history courses, you begin to learn more about what exactly shaped countries and the long fights it took to get us to where we are today. What students mostly learn are white male heroes in history with dashes of white women in history and even less of women of color in history. Women of color have been written out of history in favor of white women and more specifically white male inventors and entrepreneurs. What this does is create a serious lack of diversity and representation for women. To highlight some of the brave women from history I would like to bring to light the Russian Night Witches, the Sukeban girl gangs of Japan, and Mapuche warrior Janequeo. These women have changed and challenged stereotypes and proven leadership skills that prove that they deserve to be more than a footnote in the history books. 

Women have been fighting and changing history since the beginning. Janequeo was a warrior queen who fought and won many Spanish military invaders in the early to mid 1500’s. A defeat against the Spanish conquistadors was a huge feat to pull off and not an easy task to do. While the Spanish may have had more fire power, it took a skilled military leader to win battles. Janequeo was from the Mapuche tribe in Chile and she was married to the captain of the Mapuche army. When her husband was captured, tortured, and killed by Spanish invaders, she took arms and lead the army in her husband’s place. It was said that the Spanish armies were confused and then outraged when battle after battle their armies fell. She burnt the fort her husband ruled and last defended with the heads of the Spanish laying on the ground. 

The Spanish leader Cristobal Aranda went one on one with Janequeo, probably believing there was no way a Chilean woman could ever beat him. She did. She mounted his head on a spear and continued on with winning more and more battles. Janequeo caught the attention of Alonso de Sotomayor, a powerful conquistador, and he came with full force to take down the rebel. Janequeo won many battles but her numbers were now waning. Sotomayor was burning villages that supported her and cut off more soldiers from her army. With Janequeo’s army dwindling and Sotomayor calling reinforcements, she was forced to call a retreat to her army. Refusing to be taken as a war prisoner, she fled and no one knows what exactly happened to her. Janequeo’s bravery and military tactfulness has made her a symbol for freedom and hope for the Mapuche people who still fight for their rights in Chile. 

Moving forward several hundred years we land in World War II. The soviet Union was desperate for more people in their army, but they weren’t sure if they wanted to involve women at all in their army. On June 28, 1942 the first bombing mission was given to the Night Witches. A ban of over 400 women were chosen carefully by their leader, Marina Raskova. She was known as the “Soviet Amelia Earhart” and was famous for her long distance flight records. These women were bombers and could return fire on incoming German planes, making Russia the first nation to allow women combat during war. As for their names, it was the German’s who termed them, The Night Witches. These women were not allowed updated planes and lacked the advanced equipment needed during this time to help them on their missions. The planes would turn off midair and in order for it to be turned on they would have to get out of the plane midflight and turn them back on again and continue with the mission. Since their planes were so loud they would fly above the clouds to conceal their engines and only dive when it was time to release the bombs and then fly back in the clouds and disappear. 

These women were feared and hated by the German army so much that if a German downed a Night Witch they were given high honors when they returned. Given this incredible fact, it’s a wonder why these women are left out of history books today. They flew nearly 30,000 missions, accumulating to nearly 800 missions per pilot, and out of the 400 women chosen only 30 were lost in battle. These women proved that they were capable of fighting and contributing to the war, in this and any other type of military endeavour. Their final mission was just three days before the end of the war, and became the most highly decorated unit in the Soviet Army. Despite these amazing feats and contributions, the women were not allowed to walk in the victory day parade in Moscow. The amount of disrespect they received is astounding and reprehensible, but still, these women persisted and achieved a great victory for women everywhere.

Flashing forward again twenty years we land in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Japan where the largest school girl gang organized to fight patriarchal rules and laws. These young girls would sneak cigarettes into the schools to smoke and would start violent fights and shoplift. They were known to carry pocket knives and the gangs would range from 80 to 20,000 girls. This made it hard for the news to talk about them. What could you say when young girls ranging from young teens to young adult women. The young women would lengthen their skirts, opposing the sexist school outfits they were made to wear and swore up and down the road to prove that they did not fit into the patriarchal standards that are being pushed on them. These are some of the most strongly organized women and have made an impact on Japan’s culture and even in anime, however not in a good way. 

In order to try and demean their cause the Japanese porn industry began making films of them. Using them as sexual objects and pushing for a certain look on the girls. The girls persisted and continued to fight and “act like boys” where they were being pushed to go back into the box of feminine and submissive girls. While violence isn’t always the solution, they still make a huge impact on what girls can do when they organize. Fighting and standing together is what makes them important to the history of feminism and that fighting for equality is not always a pretty picture or even a peaceful event that caused changed, as little as it may be, to society.

The erasure of these women from history shows a great lack of representation and also a lack of inclusion. These women, and many more than just these three, have shaped and challenged stereotypes and patriarchal societies. These women braved history and stood in places where men tried to keep them from. There needs to be more inclusion of women in history classes, not a women’s studies class, simply history teaching about women and their footprints in history. Remembering them and focusing on them instead of pushing them aside as sub categories or as a different class section.